Jobless claims fall amid Superstorm Sandy

355K file for first-time benefits


Claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, as Superstorm Sandy led to power outages and closed offices on the East Coast and kept many people from filing claims.

About 355,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 3, down 8,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

That level is the lowest in a month, but economists say the fall is almost entirely due to the extreme weather conditions.

"There has been a tendency historically for extreme weather to depress claims initially, with people too preoccupied to file in the week the weather caused job losses," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, in a note to clients.

Claims are likely to head higher in the following week, as the storm damage led to temporary job losses. In the hardest hit areas, schools were closed for more than a week.

Schools alone can cause major disruptions to the initial claims data when they're closed unexpectedly, as contract workers like cafeteria servers, janitors and bus drivers can file unemployment claims when they're not working -- even if it's merely temporarily.

Meanwhile, government offices that process claims were also affected by the storm. As of Thursday morning, New Jersey's Department of Labor and Workforce Development was still experiencing delays in processing claims.

"Due to Sandy and the higher than normal volume of unemployment insurance filings, the system is experiencing some delays," its website said. "Please be patient. Our technical team is working on the problem."

The national unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in October, as 12.3 million people were counted as officially unemployed. Not all of those people receive benefits though.

As of last week, 3.1 million people filed claims for their second week or more of jobless benefits. That's down about 500,000 from a year ago.